Gospel: MT 20:17-28
As Jesus was going up to Jerusalem,
he took the Twelve disciples aside by themselves,
and said to them on the way,
“Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem,
and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests
and the scribes,
and they will condemn him to death,
and hand him over to the Gentiles
to be mocked and scourged and crucified,
and he will be raised on the third day.”
Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee approached Jesus with her sons
and did him homage, wishing to ask him for something.
He said to her, “What do you wish?”
She answered him,
“Command that these two sons of mine sit,
one at your right and the other at your left, in your kingdom.”
Jesus said in reply,
“You do not know what you are asking.
Can you drink the chalice that I am going to drink?”
They said to him, “We can.”
“My chalice you will indeed drink,
but to sit at my right and at my left,
this is not mine to give
but is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”
When the ten heard this,
they became indignant at the two brothers.
But Jesus summoned them and said,
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them,
and the great ones make their authority over them felt.
But it shall not be so among you.
Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant;
whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.
Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve
and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
A Bucket of Water
I was visiting my sister over Easter break last year when I witnessed one of the simplest, yet most profound acts of service on a college campus. At the time, she was a freshman at The University of Mississippi, “Ole Miss,” a public university located in the small town (16.5 square miles small) of Oxford, Mississippi. My sister had informed me when I arrived that a man had been walking around campus all throughout Holy Week proclaiming that anyone who sins goes to hell. Countless students had tried to explain to the man that we are all sinners by nature; however, we have the opportunity to go to heaven because God is a merciful God. He sacrificed His own son Jesus Christ so that we may live in perfect union with God forever.
On this particular Wednesday, the debate had persisted for several hours. Then, it happened. One of the students on campus decided to bring out his guitar and play Christian songs. Yes, you just read that correctly. He played and sang Christian songs in the middle of a public university. But what followed this one person’s initial action is truly unbelievable. Crowds of students joined in singing. They had decided since no words could help the relentless man understand God’s mercy, prayer could speak greater volumes. Singing is praying twice, isn’t it? In the midst of this public praising of God, another student came out with A Bucket of Water. He began washing everyone’s feet because he felt that Jesus would do the same. In fact, Jesus did wash the disciples feet the next day on Holy Thursday.
Jesus reminds us in this Gospel reading that “whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave” (Matthew 20: 26-27). God has given each of His children unique talents and gifts not to use for our own glory and pleasure, but instead to use to serve others in His name. Jesus himself came to serve and not to be served. He reminds His disciples of this when He washes their feet: “If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do. Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him” (John 13:14-16).
As I reflected on today’s Gospel reading, I vividly remembered what had taken place on Ole Miss’ campus on Wednesday, April 1st, 2015. It’s no April Fool’s Joke that these students chose to live out Christ’s message of service and of “dying to self.” By uniting in song to praise our merciful Father and to reveal to the relentless man God’s undeserving love for each of us, these students denied themselves, took up Jesus’ cross, and followed Him. And the young man who brought out A Bucket of Water and began to wash everyone’s feet did so by answering one simple question: What Would Jesus Do? It is in these times when we are met with opposition that we are also challenged to follow in Jesus’ footsteps. We are challenged to serve Christ by serving others. Ultimately, we are challenged to walk with Christ, and by walking with Christ, we are never alone.
Gospel: MT 23:1-12
Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying,
“The scribes and the Pharisees
have taken their seat on the chair of Moses.
Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you,
but do not follow their example.
For they preach but they do not practice.
They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry
and lay them on people’s shoulders,
but they will not lift a finger to move them.
All their works are performed to be seen.
They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels.
They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues,
greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation ‘Rabbi.’
As for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi.’
You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers.
Call no one on earth your father;
you have but one Father in heaven.
Do not be called ‘Master’;
you have but one master, the Christ.
The greatest among you must be your servant.
Whoever exalts himself will be humbled;
but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
“They preach but they do not practice” Jesus said of the scribes and the Pharisees. This is a pretty sad accusation. Look at the many things they did to make others think highly of them without doing the more meaningful things that could inspire others to listen to and imitate them. Having taken their places on the seat of Moses gave them great power to preach and preach they did. But they did not back up their words with comparable actions. Judging by their actions, we see they worked hard to inflate their grasp for honor but lacked the humility to assist the poor and help others to carry their burdens.
Do you have special ability in math? Do you enjoy sports because you are an outstanding athlete? Are you a very good cook with baking your specialty? Are people attracted to you because of your delightful personality? Think about at least one good thing you do very well, better than many others. Whatever it is, remember that special gift comes to you from God. Consider the ways you use that special gift. Is it to inflate your own image or is it in service to others?
Our special gifts are not given to us to show off and gain honor for the display. They are ours to share humbly. In math class, when you are collaborating in your pods, do you respond gently to a request for help or do you just dole out answers to impress others with your great ability? You have many friends because of your welcoming personality. To maintain your exalted status, do you entertain only them or do you look about, see someone sitting alone, go over and start a conversation with her or him, or do you simply ignore her?
We are called to use our gifts in service to others not to aggrandize ourselves. Jesus is our model. He healed the sick and suffering. He was not afraid of the leper. He forgave sinners. As God, he could have had unlimited resources. Instead he lived like the common man in poverty and service to those in need. How can you, a teen-ager at Mount Carmel, be like the humble Jesus in living for and serving others? Gifted as he was, with all the resources that could have been his, he was simple, humble, loving and forgiving.A simple prayer that this reading brings to mind is “Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make our hearts like until thine.” Let us pray it every day asking that we may recognize when, where and how we can humbly serve others.
Gospel: MT 16:13-19
When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi
he asked his disciples,
“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah,
still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Simon Peter said in reply,
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah.
For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.
And so I say to you, you are Peter,
and upon this rock I will build my Church,
and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.
I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven.
Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven;
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
“God Is Love”
Most of us are taught from a very young age that God is Love. As we grow older, we gradually learn more about the depth and magnitude of this truth- specifically as it manifests itself in our closest and dearest relationships. In today's iconic reading, I think that Jesus also shows us something beautiful about relationships.
The disciples express their awareness that not everyone was sold on the whole "Jesus is the Messiah" idea. You have to imagine that the disciples struggled with the judgment of others- indeed, the gospels have plenty of accounts of Jesus' closest friends doubting and denying him. Jesus knew that his disciples were struggling with this, and as any great teacher does, he leads them to the answer through careful questioning.
"But who do YOU say that I am?"
In this instance, Jesus is not wasting any energy thinking about what everyone else is thinking about him or how he should prove himself to the larger community. His main concern is the hearts of those closest to him.
How often do we come home at the end of the day with nothing left to give to our closest friends and family? The message we give them, intentially or not, is that something else deserves the best of us. During this Lenten season, let's focus on cultivating what and who is most important to us. By doing so, we might come a little bit closer to understanding what "God is Love" truly means.
Gospel Reading: MT 5:43-48
Jesus said to his disciples:
“You have heard that it was said,
You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.
But I say to you, love your enemies,
and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be children of your heavenly Father,
for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good,
and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.
For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?
Do not the tax collectors do the same?
And if you greet your brothers and sisters only,
what is unusual about that?
Do not the pagans do the same?
So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Here at Mount Carmel, we start every class together with a prayer, and lift up the special intentions on our hearts. We pray for our families, we pray for our friends, for those closest to us. We pray for ourselves. But this Lent, I am realizing that our faith is calling us to something much deeper than this. The world we live in encourages the idea that we should love our friends and family. It’s safe and comfortable to support those that support us. The world doesn’t expect us to love those who act like jerks. Society doesn’t ask us to be considerate of the needs of someone who doesn’t take our needs into account. In fact, the TV we watch and the music we listen to tells us that it is okay to be self-centered, to focus on our needs and our emotions. And as a result, when we show love to those who are hardest to love, people are often surprised by our actions. They question our reason why.
I can’t imagine a more powerful daily opportunity to show others how life-changing a personal relationship with Jesus Christ truly is, and how significant the impact of Christ’s love is in the lives of his followers, then to love our enemies with commitment and passion. So this Lent, let’s commit to changing the way we pray. Instead of praying for peace when we are hurt, or patience when someone tests our will, instead of offering up the needs of those we love, lets focus on the needs of those who have hurt us. Lets focus on the needs of those who persecute us. And in doing so, when we find our peace, we’ll be reminded of the depth of the Lord’s love. We’ll be a witness, not just to others, but to ourselves, of the game-changer that a personal relationship with Christ truly is.
Gospel Reading: MT 5: 20-26
Jesus said to his disciples:
“I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the Kingdom of heaven.
“You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment. But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, Raqa, will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna. Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court. Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge, and the judge will hand you over to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Amen, I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.”
A righteous person is a just person. A just person gives to each one what is that person’s due. What does Jesus’ warning about His followers’ righteousness surpassing that of the Scribes and Pharisees mean for us today? The Pharisees and the Scribes wanted everyone to know how much better than others they were because they kept the law. Jesus wanted His followers to know and follow the law, but to do so with a compassionate heart, mindful of the one God who gave the law, not mindful of what others thought of them. Why do we do the good things that we do to grow in love? Is it from a heart of compassion or from a desire for others to love us, think highly of us, and praise of us?Jesus continues to illustrate this to us when Jesus tells us that the law says do not kill, but Jesus tells us not even to be angry with another person, not to call anyone by names which show contempt. We are to do all that we can to live at peace with others, even to leaving our gift at the altar to seek to be reconciled. Jesus allows for the fact that perhaps one might not want to be reconciled, telling us to try again. When someone refuses reconciliation, we could end up in the prison of our hearts unless we forgive with compassion and feel no resentment for the person.
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